Sunday, 18 January 2009

Delicious Gooey Centre

It was a good thing that my Xbox died over Christmas. Yes it was. Because had it not, I wouldn't have found myself at a gaming loose end, and returning to my poor neglected Wii, and downloading what some have called "one of the best games of the year".

And indeed it is one of the best games of last year, and another fine example of downloadable goodness from the Wii shopping channel. It's certainly tops the previous pinnacle, the charming but airy Lostwinds. So come with me, to the wonderful World of Goo..

World of Goo is not a typical game, but you may be forgiven for thinking otherwise after a cursory exam. It's essentially a puzzle game where you have to get balls of goo from point A to the safety of a pipe exit, or point B, if you will. This is achieved by building goo structures along which the rest of your sticky minions crawl until the pipe is in reach, and remaining goo's are sucked to safety. Sounds like a fairly straightforward puzzler no? A kind of throwaway gameplay entertaining for a while, but nothing to get too excited about? No! This game is evil! Wondrous, devilish, enchanting, maddening! So many emotions were wrung from me as I moved through the game at breakneck speed, needing to consume each level, building ever onward and up and around!

The key to the gameplay is the impeccable physics. As you pick up and drop your goo with the wii remote the structures form according to careful rules much like a meccano set. Building a bridge across a gap is a careful lesson in engineering as you'll need to support the structure in all the right places to successfully make it across. But that's just early on. After a few levels merely building bridges and towers becomes so passe, and the game throws increasingly bizarre and inventive challenges at you that will have you tearing your hair out, and looking on in wonder at the sheer ingenious-ness of it all. New types of goo are consistently introduced that broaden the possibilities of you structures, and gameplay never, ever becomes stale as a result. There is even a brilliantly witty story as your goo traverses the island, working towards the mysterious world of goo corporation who's new z-product threatens to change everything. Into 3D.

The product of a 2 man team, the creation of the game is a real wonder in itself. 2 people. Created this whole thing. Astonishing. Not only does it have spellbindingly great physics and gameplay mechanics, but the presentation is absolutely top notch. Comparisons to Tim Burton are well founded; the art direction and music invoke all kinds of Burton and Elfman nods, and manages to create, in a physics based puzzler bear in mind, a rich and coherent world. Of goo. The music is particularly wonderful, from the breathless knees-up of the Hungarian folky panic songs, to mournful techno death marches up the red carpet, the soundtrack is full of memorable and often epic scoring, that belies the fact that you're trying to get goo in a pipe. Indeed, the level of detail and charm in every aspect of the game completely belies the underlying objective. After a while, your goo is precious to you. Every one of them is a blessing to be cherished and used in only the most efficient constructions possible. We can only hope they know our thanks are with them for the sacrifice they made.

It's not an overly long game, but re playability is massive. Aside from simply wanting to re-experience all those lovely moments, the OCD challenges are infuriatingly, well, challenging. To get each of those awards, based on number of goos rescued or time and move based challenges, means absolute efficiency that demands borderline madness. OCD indeed. There is also the mysterious World of Goo Corporation area, where the total number of goo balls available relates to the number you've rescued from the game's levels, and the objective is simply to build up and up. What's up there? Nobody knows! As you climb ever higher, if online you see other people's tower heights signposted. We're all out there building our towers higher than everybody else's! Here even more than in the main game, you'll feel the panic and sting as your intricately engineered erection wavers and comes crashing down due to a poorly supported buttress.

Yes truly an astonishing piece of gaming. Brilliantly, you can play it right now if you want, as it's available on Steam for download. I think I prefer the tactile sensation of using a wiimote, but the game is equally charming on pc. For more goo-dness, check out this awesome blog some brilliant person has made.

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